Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2012

2012 F1 Driver Rankings #1: Fernando Alonso

2012 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2012

It’s hard not to admire a talented driver working wonders in a sub-par car. Watching Fernando Alonso grapple with the F2012 during qualifying in Melbourne, struggling merely to keep the thing pointed in a straight line, I doubted we’d see him on top of the podium any time soon.

Of course I was quickly proved wrong. At the next race the Sepang International Circuit was doused by a rain storm, and having qualified 1.3 seconds off the McLarens in the dry Alonso now had the pace to win. He seized the opportunity and never put a wheel out of place as Sergio Perez bore down on him.

This looked like a great win at the time and when the next two rounds supplied further proof of how far off the mark the F2012 was, the feat Alonso performed in Malaysia shone even more brightly. Heading back to Europe he trailed Sebastian Vettel in the championship by just ten points and Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren by six.

Beat team mate in qualifying 18/20
Beat team mate in race 17/17
Races finished 18/20
Laps spent ahead of team mate 1011/1081

For all Alonso’s skill, it is doubtful he could have remained in contention for the championship had the Ferrari remained that bad all year long.

After testing at Mugello, the team arrived in Spain with a significantly improved car, which they continued to hone over the following races. Having been 1.5% off the pace over the first four races, the deficit was cut to less than half that over the next four.

Alonso immediately delivered on the upgraded car’s potential. Having previously averaged a starting position of 9.5 he lined up second on the grid in Spain, gaining one place thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s penalty. He took the lead early on, but finished second behind Pastor Maldonado.

From this point on Alonso could usually count on the McLarens and Red Bulls being quicker, and often Lotus as well. Yet with a little luck, a little help from his team mate, and a lot more speed and tenacity, he remained in contention for the title until the last lap of the season.

In Valencia he outstripped even his Malaysian Grand Prix success. Having started 11th he picked off several rivals early on, gained a few more places in the pits and put a sublime pass on Romain Grosjean after the safety car restart. Vettel’s retirement handed him a fortunate but hard-earned victory.

He exploited wet qualifying sessions in Britain and Germany, taking pole positions in each despite a lurid spin at Silverstone. Mark Webber picked him off in the dying stages for victory in Britain but in Germany he resisted pressure from Vettel and Button to win again.

That was his third and final triumph of the season. As Red Bull and McLaren grew stronger Alonso relied on a series of podium finishes to stay in the hunt.

His efforts were stymied by a pair of no-scores in Belgium and Japan while Vettel amassed 43 points in those two races. While Alonso was clearly blameless for the collision in Belgium, he could have done more to avoid his first-lap retirement in Japan, and indicated he viewed the collision as a racing incident.

Vettel took the lead on points in Korea but Alonso was straining every sinew to keep in touch. He came home second in India after passing both McLarens and the KERS-less Webber. Abu Dhabi offered a great opportunity and Alonso capitalised about as well as he might have done by taking second.

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Valencia, 2012But the balance of power at Ferrari shifted surprisingly in the final two races. Alonso had comprehensively seen off Felipe Massa for much of the season but his team mate gradually recovered his form and out-qualified him on merit in America and Brazil. Ferrari remedied the former by deliberately incurring a penalty on Massa’s car.

In Brazil Massa not only out-qualified Alonso but also jumped ahead of him in the race, before predictably giving the position back quickly. Second place was the best Alonso could expect here, even if he hadn’t gone off twice when the rain fell, and it was not quite enough to keep Vettel from the championship.

It would be easy to exaggerate Alonso’s driving this year. It was not faultless, just as his car was not a shopping trolley with a lawnmower engine. Acknowledging the reality of his performance this years gives us a view of it that is more impressive for being authentic.

Yes, he might have given Raikkonen a bit more room at Suzuka, he might have got the restart right in Abu Dhabi and not gone off while trying to pass Maldonado in China. And it is surprising that Massa took over as Ferrari’s pace setter in the final races.

But this imperfect season was still a tremendous effort, and one which came within four points of being a truly stunning achievement. For that, he has to be F1 Fanatic’s driver of the year.

What F1 Fanatic readers said about Alonso

Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, Sepang, 2012Here’s how F1 Fanatic readers viewed Fernando Alonso’s season:

Without doubt the driver of the year, to take a car which began the season 1.5 seconds of the pace and was on average the fourth-fastest on the grid to within three points of a world championship shows Alonso is the class of the field. Surely a third world title can’t be too far away – assuming his team can match his talents.

I feel his season has been a bit overrated by some, and his car wasn’t as terrible as he would have us believe, but it was a fantastic season Alonso’s had nevertheless. With his usual relentlessness he got everything out of the car and consistently delivered.

Great opportunism allowed him to secure three very impressive victories and his race craft was amazing all through the year. It’s always a shame when a driver’s season of such incredible driving is not awarded with the title.

He hasn’t put a foot wrong all season, and the only reason he missed out on the championship was a slow car at the start of the year. He’s had some phenomenal drives this year, and he did everything he could to try to win.

I think the championship was lost when he pushed too hard at the start in Japan and caused himself to crash out. But that was the one and only mistake of the entire season for him, and he’s proved without a doubt to be the overall best driver this season.

There is no doubt that this was Alonso’s strongest season to date. His racing talent was never under question, and this year he showed three characteristics which show his unique strengths – focus, intelligence and opportunism. If you add those strengths to his already strong race pace and overtaking ability, you have a formidable opponent regardless of his machinery.

His car was not a championship winner.. in fact far from it. Yet he never gave up and he came incredibly close to creating history – winning a championship in the third or fourth-fastest car. His first half of the season was spectacular, and he was a class of his own… it’s unfortunate that his only slight slump in form came during the last two races but I doubt it would have made a difference anyway.

Although the Ferrari wasn’t an HRT throughout the year, it certainly wasn’t the class of the field. Alonso’s campaign saw some intelligent and mature driving from the wily Spaniard. Like all great champions, Alonso enjoyed some luck as his Ferrari car never failed him. However, the fact that he was battling Vettel for the championship to the very end cements his status as the number one driver in F1.

Notes on how the rankings are produced

The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.

Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.

A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.

Over to you

What do you think of Fernando Alonso’s season? Have your say in the comments.

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124 comments on “2012 F1 Driver Rankings #1: Fernando Alonso”

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  1. Here we go again overhyping Alonso, seriously this nonsense has to stop, Alonso did nothing special in my eyes, he failed to overtake Maldonado in Barcelona while the Ferrari was better then the Williams and don’t forget how often he was lucky as well

    1. Its not necessary to acknowlegde Alonso if you dont want to but you need to give credit where credit is due.
      And with all due respect, you say that ‘this nonsense has to stop’ and then immediately make a statement that is precisely what you wanted to stop!

    2. the Ferrari was better then the Williams

      Yeah right

  2. In 2005 and 2006, the Renaults that Alonso won his championship titles with wasn’t the fastest over the course of both seasons, but the most reliable. McLaren’s reliability nowadays seems to be back to the same level it was before 2007, the year Alonso joined them. In 2007 and 2008, McLaren’s reliability was as strong as Ferrari’s is now. Räikkönen lost the title in 2005 because of poor reliability despite having the fastest car, just like Hamilton did this year. And if you look at Ferrari’s reliabiliy in the past, it was not particulary good in 2005-2009 (especially bad in 2009). In the beginning of 2010 it wasn’t perfect either (remember Alonso’s great drive in Malaysia that year), but from then on it’s been pretty much faultless. All this makes me think Alonso wasn’t just lucky to have a reliable car this season as some people suggest, if there is one driver who has the ability to make sure his engineer gives him a car that he can finish every race with it is Fernando Alonso.

    His amazing drives this year that made Webber’s comment from before ths season “as long as Fernando has a steering wheel in his hands he’s there, so never discount Fernando” more relevant than ever was simply the best I have ever seen anyone do, without a doubt. perfection is extremely difficult to achieve, but Alonso was the closest to it that I’ve ever seen, putting a not-very-fast car in places where it didn’t belong in the beggining of the year by pushing like a maniac, yet still having the consistancy that he had and generally (apart from Suzuka) staying out of trouble – thank you Fernando for making this season great!

    1. if there is one driver who has the ability to make sure his engineer gives him a car that he can finish every race with it is Fernando Alonso.

      You don’t seriously believe that Alonso spends time in the engine wing of Ferrari advising them on the best materials to use in the engine bearings or how to optimize oil flow to the cylinder head?

      1. No I don’t, what I said is that, maybe, just maybe, it’s not a coincidence that he’s always had reliable cars. Maybe he tells his team to sacrifice the slightest amount of performance in order to be able to reach the finish line as often as possible.

        1. Maybe. I’ve noticed that Button’s cars seemed a bit more reliable than Hamilton’s during their years together at McLaren. Perhaps that’s luck, but I suspect that some of it is due to Hamilton pushing his car a little bit harder.

      2. No, but he does spend a great amount of time after hour at Marenelo and according to the mechanics, more than any other driver they had before, even more the Schumacher, and that I my add was in the days when their was and insane amount of testing days.

  3. My assessment of Alonso is the same as Alonso’s assessment of himself.

    “I might not be fastest, or the most technical but I am consistent.”

    That seems about right. His success as a driver has never been about talking a lot of poles and a lot of race wins, but about finishing well on a consistent basis. He does not have a lot of wins in his career, but he is third on the all time list of podium winners. He will probably pass Prost and move into second before his career is over.

    But there are drawbacks to that approach and they can be seen in 2007, 2010, and 2012. Three seasons where Alonso came up short in the last race of the season and by the narrowest of margins – by a point in 2007, by four and three points in 2010 and 2012. But allowing for the new points system we can say that all three were by the same tiny amount.

    Once is bad luck, but three times starts to look like a pattern. The Alonso style of “not the fastest, but consistent and error free” driving works well across a season but at the end of the day, you can’t trust to other drivers having problems. If you hardly ever have errors, perhaps it’s a sign that you’re just not pushing yourself and the car hard enough?

    A number of people here seem to give too much weight to how many mistakes a driver makes. Mistakes can be, if not a good thing themselves, at least indicative of a desirable degree of aggression in a driver. Ayrton Senna made plenty of mistakes – but they were frequently a result of his pushing himself and his car too close to their limits. I’d like to see Alonso do a bit more of that.

    1. I’d like to see Alonso do a bit more of that.

      then you have to re-watch some of the 2012 GPs

      1. Yeah, I know, Alonso was always driving at “110%”. Except for all those times when he was driving at 120%, or 130%, or whatever number popped into his head in describing himself during the press conference.

        He wasn’t fast enough. If he’s been as fast as Massa in the last eight races he’d be champion today. I don’t want to say he “choked” – that’s a schoolyard taunt. But he did not deliver when he needed to, just as he did not in 2007 or 2010. There are drivers who need to dial back their aggression: Alonso needs to dial his up a notch.

        1. That’s your opinion BTW did you asked yourself why all the F1 world (ex F1 champions current drivers team principles and journalists) has a different opinion to yours ???
          i think they’re wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        2. You don’t win championships by retireing from half the races

          1. Very true, but in 2010 Alonso proved you don’t win championships by racing for 4th. Vettel almost made that mistake in Brazil, but fortunately Alonso wasn’t racing to win, he was racing for a podium.

            It’s a quality I admire in Vettel and Hamilton – both go out to win knowing that everything else will fall into place. And that quality is perfectly in line with Senna (“Winning is the most important. Everything is consequence of that.” or “I just love winning.”)

          2. Of course there’s a balance to be struck there. But I’d suggest that Alonso’s three runner-up seasons indicate that he’s not getting that balance quite right.

          3. davidnotcoulthard
            15th December 2012, 3:41

            If that’s how he want’s to win the WDC surely he can learn from Rosberg! Ask Villeneuve about it!

    2. Thank you.

    3. And your assessment seems to forget about the fact that he never driven the fast car out right. Would he have lost the championship with his consistency if he had driven the Red Bull the last three years?

  4. Ferrari has been the third fastest car during this season. For Alonso, it hasn´t been a matter of “avoid mistakes”; it’s been a matter of “extract the maximum from what you have”. It’s astonishing how some people tend to ignore the influence of the car in the final result. If you don´t have the best car…if you shouldn´t wait for other’s mistakes…if you shouldn´t rely on consistency…how should you win? Exceeding the limits of the car? Exposing yourself to a crash? Making miracles?

    Alonso is not just a consistent driver; he is much more than that. That’s the reason why so many people consider him one of the very best drivers in history

    I can imagine the pressure Fernando has been dealing with. He got to Brazil without car/points advantage, he started the race 14 points behind Vettel and finished only 3 points behind… and the only thing some people seem to have seen is that Massa was faster than him and he couldn´t beat Button. Was Ferrari faster than Mclaren? Was Massa constantly faster than Alonso? Was Massa faster than Button? Was the pressure on Massa’s shoulders? Was Massa unable to beat fast drivers in the past?

    Maybe I’m wrong but I have the sense that Alonso’s 2012 season will be remembered… even though he didn’t win, even though Massa was faster than him in three races, even though he was benefited from other’s luck of reliability (others benefited from Ferrari luck of speed)

    Alonso is not a god and obviously he can´t make miracles. He is simply one of the greatest F1 drivers ever and I am here to give credit where it is due.

    1. I was trying to say ‘lack of reliability’ and ‘lack of speed’. It seems that I can´t avoid mistakes

    2. it’s been a matter of “extract the maximum from what you have”.

      There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I believe that if Massa had been able to drive his own race instead of shepherding Alonso in Brazil he might well have won with Button second. The same is true for some of the other instances where Massa sacrificed his race – it wasn’t a simple swap of third for fourth, Massa sometimes abandoned a real chance at second t take fourth.

      So I can’t agree that Alonso consistently extracted the maximum possible performance from his car. He drove well this season – very well in fact – but not as well as humanly possible, which is what his admirers are saying. He COULD have won the title if he’d driven as well as his teammate did at times. I believe if he’d matched Massa’s performance in Brazil Alonso would be champion today.

      That’s a very high bar to set, but it’s one that has to be met by “one of the greatest F1 drivers ever”.

      1. So in your opinion Ferrari was faster than Mclaren in Brazil… based on what?

        There’s no way of knowing for sure… but Alonso and Massa hadn´t the same diffuser in Austin…was Massa’s old diffuser better than Alonso’s new diffuser? was Massa faster because of that? this is the kind of reasoning any person can make when ‘there’s no way of knowing for sure’

        There’s no way of knowing for sure…Massa had nothing to lose in Brazil…Alonso everything…could this have affected them in some way? By the way, was Massa faster than Alonso lap after lap?

        Alonso has been driving a car that almost never was the fastest and even so he managed to finish 3 points behind the winner. My rational mind tells me that he was extracting the maximun of the car during most part of the season. In any case, what I was trying to say is that when you don´t have the machinery for being first, you have to fight for being second, or third, or whatever, but try to be up there constantly…summarizing, try to be constant.

  5. This was a no brainer to me. People can make arguments about which driver has made more mistakes, which drivers have been lucky, etc. but at the end of the day results are what count. Alonso produced big results this year in an inadequate car. That he came within three points of the championship is hugely impressive.

  6. Senna was a driver that wanted to beat his opponents on the track fair and square

    I love Ayrton Senna & please don’t consider this an insult to his memory because i simply want to correct something that i consider wrong
    Senna was never fair when it comes to beat his rivals he was absolutely ruthless with his attitude of “crash or let me pass” remember that he risked his own life and the one of Prost in Suzuka 1990
    I don’t know why but i think that maybe because we are “FANATIC” about our idols that we think that they are god and that they never make mistakes but there not they are humans and humans make mistakes

    1. @tifoso1989 Martin Brundle commented on a piece Top Gear did on Senna back in 2010. He said Senna would deliberately go for a gap that was closing and would result in contact if the other driver didn’t back down. It was a form of intimidation. Brundle also said that if a driver backed down then Senna would know that drive would always be that way.

      In one way it’s safe to bestow “greatest” on Senna, but if he were driving today, folks would be shocked — just look at the reaction Schumacher got in Hungary pushing Reubens Barrichello towards the grass/wall.

      Senna also made mistakes. I think everyone keeps nitpicking “mistakes” by drivers this season as a criteria to differentiate the top 3. Worse, we don’t see all the mistakes they make, only a few and we get very subjective about their importance. Take Abu Dhabi as a for instance – Vettel gets crucified for nicking Senna’s wing, but Lewis had a huge lock up and ran wide at the end of the back straight on lap 2 — if Kimi was closer, Lewis could have or would have lost a position. So Hamilton’s mistake didn’t cost him anything. Nor did Vettel’s. Alonso had a terrible restart after the first SC (a mistake) and was both skillful in defending and lucky Webber couldn’t take advantage of it. Vettel also made the mistake behind Ricciardo for which he paid a penalty, but that was incredibly random – 50 meters sooner or later and there would have been no contact. But stuff happens.

      For the record, Alonso had a great season and I have no qualms with him being selected the number 1 driver of the year. But I don’t think it’s a case that he made less mistakes or Hamilton/Vettel made more. He took the advantages his car gave him (great starts, bullet proof reliability, great operational team, and competitive race pace) and made hay when the sun shown. Alonso knows the value of scoring the maximum number of points in each race, whether its 1 point, 5 pts or a podium, so he pushed hard from the start of the year, and each lap. I think Vettel is another driver who understands the value of points – I think that’s why he was so angry with NK in Malaysia. Even 4th place (and 12pts) would be meaningful in the long run. I think Lewis is almost there (if he was I don’t think he would have defended against Maldonado so hard in Valencia).

      1. I saw that “Top Gear” segment with Brundle’s comment. Of course he would say Senna was ruthless and blame him- Senna completely dominated and outclassed him in F3. That was the only contact they ever made in F3. As for the Suzuka incident, people always “forget” what happened in 1989. Prost clearly slammed his car into Senna, wanting to put both out of the race. Senna won the race even having to go to the pits to change a nose and after staying more than 20 seconds stranded. Prost seeing all this happening went rushing to the Stewards to ask for a “ban” on Senna having “skipped” a chicane while reentering the race. This is well documented. Even Ron Dennis came in defence of Senna in that moment, discussed with the attitude of the also great Prost- Alonso somehow resembles Alain in many aspects- What Senna did in 1990 was a “retribution” for that, “an eye for an eye”. Was that a classy move? Not at all, and you could see in Senna’s face he wasn’t happy with that after the move- but it was the sign of a human being who searched for “justice” for something he felt he was robbed off. Tell me of a single moment Senna as done something like that after this incident? Exactly.

  7. The biggest thing I have been impressed by are his starts. Qualifying was the weakest aspect of the Ferrari this year, and to exploit good race pace you need to be out of the slower midfield. To do this, race after race, avoiding collisions in the midfield was pure class. This I feel gave him the edge over Hamilton this year, and Hamilton has said himself, for whatever reason the starts weren’t great for him. Other than that, very little to choose between the top 2.

  8. I think Vettel was best, then Hamilton, then Alonso.

  9. @keithcollantine

    Sir, you have gained a whole new level of respect from my part. It is worthy of applause. I know you are a RBR/Vettel fan (at least that is what it seems like from time to time) and reading this article, it is obvious you are a connoisseur! It is admirable that you can put your preffereces aside and give credit where credit is due!
    I know that I may have my “moments” that are not that appreciated by you but, I too know how to give credit where it is due… and this article is one of those moments.
    It really makes me feel even better than I already felt knowing that almost everybody, including yourself, can show respect towards a driver who had a majestic season even if it goes against their preferences.
    It´s true that Alonso may have lost his second title in 3 years at the hands of herr Vettel but even though 2010 was heartbreaking… 2012 is miles away from that… That is why I said on one of my moderated posts… Sometimes it´s better to come in second…
    Again sir…. my hat is off to you! I mean it from the bottom of my heart!

  10. yes Fernando was the best driver this season. But my respect for him is diminishing fast..he talks like he was driving around in horse drawn carriage all year. But Ferrari displayed competitive race pace at most races. spectacular no, solid and consistent yes. much like kimi just in a better car

  11. This is a much better evaluation of the driver who got the most out of his car than what Radio LeMans Nick Damon did in his podcast. His worship of Lewis is sickening. Alonso had much less of a car than Hamilton who gave away the championship in Valencia.

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